I find myself in Caldizilla de la cuerna (or something!) and although one of the smallest hamlets yet, here is internet! But very basic --- I suspect there is a little boy behind the wall blowing on the coals to keep them going to provide the steam to generate the power to work this very archaic piece of equipment --- except one never sees little boys --- or little girls -- no children in this country -- no idea where they are.
In fact no idea where the people are --- I continue to walk through one village after the next that looks like an abandoned set on the Universal studios plot -- ghost towns all of them. Very eerie. Far off in the distance one sees big trucks on the highways and occasionally one hears a train somewhere in the distance (no -- to be honest, I have only heard a train twice -- or is that two trains?) but no people! Just in the big city such as Burgos were there lots of people --- lots of traffic and smells and noise as well, and hard to stay calm! One forgets very quickly what it is like to live in a word full of people.
Today was another exquisite experience -- walking the last more than 18 kilometers on a relatively straight and almost flat path (very stony! everywhere very stony! Impossibly and agonisingly stony!) across a landscape so beautiful it takes your breath away. The skies -- which have been pouring buckets on me these past few days, were alive with blue grey white charcoal clouds in magnificent formations and every now and then a bright spot light of sun breaks through making the green fields and red clay mud and and almost black trees that dot the horizon such vivid and intense colours that you have to stop and look and look again.
(This part is a plateau and because of its flatness, the guidebooks warn that you might get bored. Bored? I shake my head at such a thought -- and wonder about mankind........ but this is an update, not a dissertation, so mum's the word......for now)
Such bliss this morning being able to stop and sit down and take the back pack off for a little while and enjoy my feast of sausage and bread and fruit --- I found these last few days with all the constant rain one has to continue and somehow then forgets to stop to eat --- and while I sat there just enjoying the splendour of this incredible countryside, a little cat --- so gorgeous in snow white and tiger stripes and the most captivating yellow eyes came out of nowhere, ´talking´all the way -- all the time --- little happy meows ---- and sat on my leg to be stroked and cuddled. Every now and then she would hop off and go hunt an insect or throw a stone in the air and try to catch it and then come back for more cuddles. It was so special! I have no idea where she came from -- there was nothing for miles and miles --- really nothing -- no farms, houses, no villages --- for 18 kilometers this Way of Aquitaine as it is called is completely bare of human life. Just kilometre after kilometre of newly sewn or newly ploughed wheat fields. When it is was time to get up and put my food away and return the ruck sack to my back, I was worried the little cat would follow me --- not sure what I would have done if she did. But she stayed and sat on the side of the path watching me until we could no longer see each other. I think perhaps she was the soul of another peregrina of another time...
My aches and pains have become part of the daily existence. There but not unbearable. Early morning is the hardest -- if hard it is at all. Until I have warmed up after a few kilometers, the feet hurt, the knees hurt, the back feels the weight of the bag. Then all the hurt disappears as the mist starts to lift and the muscles and joints warm up -- and only late in the day when the body senses a refuge ´s wide open welcoming door close, the feet start complaining again -- not from the walking or the constant bearing of weight mile after mile,. but from the ever-present stones! There must be more stones under foot on this walk than there are stars in the sky. And of course with the rain, one has to look extra carefully where to put your feet on every step -- the soil is such clay -- clinging to the soles of the shoes and making you feel after a little while like you are walking on stilts!
But what amazing things these boots of mine are! Last night, after three days of solid rain, they were so wet they must have weighed about seven kilograms each -- but inside they are as dry as bone -- brilliant! Yesterday was a 45.7 kilometres walk --- the longest yet for one day! --- not by choice, I assure you -- but because there was not a single refuge open. I eventually ended up in a little hostal -- a very basic little hotel --- and had the amazing luxury of a bath!!!!! with hot hot water!!!!! --- after a very very strange experience.
There are so many little anecdotes and myths and legends about the devil appearing to pilgrims and trying to steer them off course (or some such wicked things) --- well, my friends, I saw him last night. From far far away I saw this strange sight -- a man standing in the middle of the road which was running alongside the pilgrim´s path. He seemed not to move even when cars came past -- just stood there holding an umbrella. I thought it must be a mirage --- too many kilometers in one day -- I had been walking almost 11 hours and was obviously hallucinating. But when I got closer I saw that it was in fact a man -- smartly dressed with black trousers and black leather shoes, a white shirt and tie and what looked like an expensive raincoat. He was holding an umbrella over his head, but --- regardless of the cars passing at speed and him having stood in the middle of the road, his clothes seemed incredibly dry! A big bald head with longish hair curling over the back of his raincoat, a big nose -- he really did look like a good model for a stone gargoyle... When I came close to him, he walked across the road towards me and fell in step with me on the pilgrim's´way --- stones (have a mentioned the stones???!!) and mud and all -- and him in his smart black leather shoes. He asked me where I had walked from and when I told him he would not believe me that I had walked so far. He then said there is no refuge open in the next village --- about another kilometer or so. I said I know there is a refuge open --- one has to get the key from the bar across the square. He said no -- I will have to come and stay in his house. Now this is of course all in Spanish and I am afraid that my Spanish is not even ten words better than it was when I started this journey... I said no thank you I will stay in the refuge. He got angry and said the refuge is closed and if I pay him (much rubbing of fingers and mention of dinero´s) I can stay in his house. I said again no thank you. He then returned to the more comfortable tarmac of the road and started walking a little faster than me. When I arrived wet and tired at the bar across the square about half hour later, guess who was standing at the bar, drinking a glass of wine, but the gargoyle man himself. I went up top the bar owner and asked for the refuge key and he said no, refuge closed. I said it has to be opened upon request but he shouted at me and told me to go to the next town )another ten kilometers) -- there was no room for me in this village. Well --- I could see why a pilgrim would lose their way or renounce their faith or do something silly --- not hard to be tempted to do anything when you have walked 11 hours in the pouring rain and cold and mist and past that many closed refuge doors, but you would be proud of me --- I smiled and turned around and walked to the other side of the town and booked into a hostal --- THE hostal of BATH!! and HOT WATER!! fame!!
Fortunately for me I so love the rain --- and the pitta patta sound of the drops on my poncho provide a wonderful background rhythm to the squelching of my boots in the mud and my stick marking the pace. I am just so grateful that the rain did not come before in the mountainous parts where going up hill and downhill could have become a tricky -- if not hilarious maneouvre!
I have not even started to talk about my epiphanies, or my many moments of tears -- of joy and wonder and awe --- nor have I brought you up to date of my fellow pilgrims ---
there is so much to tell and share -- but for tomight this is all, folks! --- I shall now go wash my clothes and then go look for a little place
Please keep the little text messages and msm´s coming --- they are fantasticly encouraging and energising!
Lots of love to you all..................
Keep the spirit alive! And Buen Camino!